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"DuckTales": From Globe-Hopping to Multi-Parters. Yay?

by on February 15, 2008

While many of the classic Disney Afternoon shows have both their fans and their haters, DuckTales seems an exception. I guess everyone loves seeing Scrooge McDuck get richer and richer.

God, do I hate Bubba Duck.For the uninitiated: DuckTales centers on Scrooge McDuck, the richest duck in the city of Duckburg. He’s so rich he dumps all his petty cash into a gigantic money bin in the center of town just so he can go swimming in it for relaxation. He was having the time of his life with his butler Duckworth when, suddenly, his nephew Donald Duck dumped Scrooge’s three younger nephews, Huey, Louie, and Dewey, on his doorstep so that ‘ol Donald could join the United States Navy. To reel in the boys so that they don’t cause too much trouble, Scrooge hires a nanny named Mrs. Beakley, who brings along her young daughter Webbagail. However, this doesn’t stop Scrooge from doing what he loves: traveling around the world looking for ancient treasures to make him even richer. To get to those places, he hires a bumbling pilot known as Launchpad McQuack, who prides himself on his crash landings. Together the ducks fend off Flintheart Glomgold, Scrooge’s biggest rival and the second richest duck in Duckburg; the Beagle Boys, a group of petty thieves with an eye for Scrooge’s money bin; and Magica DeSpell, a wicked sorceress who wants Scrooge’s Lucky Dime in order to take over the world.

It’s when those villains are in the story that the series tends to shine. For the most part, the plots of DuckTales are typical Saturday-morning fare and aren’t all that great. It’s the character interactions that makes the show so much fun, and when the gang interact with these established villains, the show just sparks. In particular, any time Magica DeSpell is on screen the show becomes brilliant. Her unusual speech pattern and Scrooge’s crotchety nature clash beautifully (though Scrooge’s personality clashes with most of the characters beautifully) and makes even the stupidest scenes worth watching. Now that I think about it, I can’t think of a single bad Magica DeSpell episode on this set. Glomgold is also comic gold whenever he’s on screen, but he doesn’t get to participate in the action directly like he did early on in the series and typically stays behind to plot. As a result, he doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as he should, which limits his effectiveness. The Beagle Boys are the recurring villains that misfire the most, as sometimes their scenes aren’t as fun and sometimes they’re introduced into episodes (such as “The Status Seekers”) where they don’t contribute to the plot at all.

All for one and one for me!Unfortunately, episodes where the pre-established villains don’t appear in are rather hit or miss. Sure, every episode has some great Scrooge scenes, as the character is very rich (both figuretively and literally) and oftentimes carries scenes or entire episodes on his shoulders. However, even he cannot save some episodes from being rather lackluster, such as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. McDuck” and “Till Nephews Do Us Part.” Such episodes as these often have one-time antagonists that don’t really make much of an impact and in some cases, such as the aforementioned “Status Seekers,” cause the established characters to act out-of-character. The writers try valiantly to make these one-shot characters work, but they just fail and end up with very forgettable episodes. Once in a while they’ll get one that works out well enough thanks to the dialog and some decent staging (a prime example is “Duck in the Iron Mask”), but more often than not these episodes just pale in comparison to episodes where the established villains star.

At the beginning of the second season, the writers decided to try and spice things up by adding in two new characters. One is known as Bubba Duck, who is introduced in the “Time is Money” five-parter. Scrooge wants to go back in time to prevent Glomgold from cheating his way out of Scrooge’s diamond mine, but the group ends up back in the Jurassic period. This would have been a great chance to have the gang go time-hopping across different time periods, but then things go wrong when Bubba hops aboard and joins the group. The character is a blatant “silly and naive” character that, if this were an anime, would be a prime plushie candidate. Heck, he even gets his own annoying musical number. The Bubba character doesn’t really add anything to the show and doesn’t gel with any of the established cast members. There’s also this annoying plot point about Scrooge possibly screwing up the timeline by bringing Bubba to the present, but nothing is ever mentioned of this plotline again, which is a disappointment. Here I was hoping for a DuckTales version of Back to the Future.

GizmoDuck = AwesomeThe other new character is much less annoying and a lot more memorable. Yep, in the five-part “Super DuckTales” adventure, we finally get to meet Fenton Crackshell and his eventual alter-ego GizmoDuck. Now, I may be in the minority, but I find Fenton to be a very boring character. Boring design, boring quirks, and boring dialog all add up to a very forgettable character. However, I simply love his GizmoDuck persona, as it adds a lot of fun to the show. True, this will turn the show more towards a standard action adventure series a la Rescue Rangers or Darkwing Duck, but GizmoDuck is so much fun that I don’t mind it. The five-parter, unfortunately, doesn’t make its full use out of GizmoDuck, as he disappears mid-way through the story when the Beagle Boys take over the money bin (true, the “Ma Beagle spends Scrooge’s money” montage is funny, but still no GizmoDuck) and the final episode is just all sorts of misplaced. The first four parts involve the Beagle Boys relocating Scrooge’s money bin, but the fifth involves a bunch of robotic aliens stealing the bin to melt down the money for spare parts. There’s just so much wrong with the episode (much like the alien episode from the last volume) that it brings down the entire multi-parter. There might have been a bright spot if we had gotten a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference, but we don’t even get that.

Unfortunately, the animation has been steadily going downhill on this set compared to the beginning of the series. Most notably, the characters are apparently made out of rubber and bend and twist doing the simplest tasks. The fluid-but-on-model animation used during the opening episodes (examples of which are seen in the intro) are long since gone and replaced by characters bouncing off the walls for no reason at all. Now, I’m not saying that everything has to be super-stiff like your average Shonen Jump anime, but some consistency in the character animations never hurt anybody. Another problem is that the color palette got noticeably brighter as the series went along. No longer are dark shadows and backgrounds used to contrast the brighter colors of the characters. Nope, now everything’s über-bright. This becomes extremely evident when clips of Bubba and GizmoDuck are added to the intro. These clips don’t mesh at all with the other clips and stand out like a sore thumb, almost as if they were some fan-made intro made for the DVD.

Sheesh, all those years and Launchpad never even changed his jacket.Luckily, the voice cast continues to be exceptionally strong. Alan Young is simply marvelous as the ever-crotchety Scrooge McDuck, bringing life into the character the same way Mel Blanc brought Bugs Bunny to life. Young’s Scrooge voice is a perfect Scottish accent, giving the character an additional richness, not unlike what Mike Myers would do years later as Shrek. The rest of the cast performs up to the usual standards of a Disney cartoon (the quality of said cartoons may be suspect, but very rarely do Disney shows ever have a bad voice cast), though many of them are a step below Young’s brilliant Scrooge. As for the music, the theme song is as addictive as ever and thankfully the creative staff decided to not adjust the lyrics in order to accommodate Bubba and GizmoDuck. The background music works pretty well for the most part, though some of it seems a bit too similar to the music used in Chip N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers.

If you’re expecting extras on these sets, you’re going to be greatly disappointed. I guess you could consider Disney using the old VHS coverart a plus, as it’s certainly an improvement over certain other DVD sets. Plus, you get all this in a cool thinpak casing. OK, so the screenshots on the back still look horrible and the video quality is decent at best, but really, if you were expecting anything more out of these sets then you haven’t been paying attention to these releases. This is strictly a no-frills affair.

If you’ve enjoyed previous volumes, then this set continues the DuckTales goodness. Just remember to skip the Bubba episodes and the final episode of “Super Ducktales.”

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